Members to bid emotional farewell to evergreen Harrogate Flower Club after almost 60 years

Founder Shirley Ake
Founder Shirley Ake
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Members of one of the oldest institutions in Harrogate will bid an emotional farewell to their club tomorrow evening during its final AGM.

Harrogate Flower Club's committee will officially close after their club during its final meeting tomorrow night (Thursday, February 9), almost 60 years after it was formed.

After leaving school in London at the age of 15, the club's founding member Shirley Ake spent two years working under esteemed florist Constance Spry.

Shirley then made the journey up North to Harrogate where she opened two florists of her own; Shirley's on Montpellier Parade and Blamey's on Market Place.

However, it was in January 1959 when Shirley launched the inaugural meeting of the Harrogate Flower and Decoration Club, as it was first known, along with 11 of her friends.

Shirley said that the group first met at her house where she demonstrated flower arranging before branching out into church decorations, Spring Shows and festivals.

The club was one of the first to join the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS), which today has more than 55,000 members, when it launched in 1959 and Shirley said it has been a privilege to watch it grow over the years.

She said: "I decided to start the club with a few of my friends who wanted to do a bit of flower arranging. They would come to my house and we made a little social evening out of it.

"We were a very vibrant club and our main event was the Spring Show in the Valley Gardens every year but we also had a stand at the Great Yorkshire Show.

"People were very keen to join at first and we had our meetings in a little cafe on Cheltenham Parade and at some points we grew to having 70 to 80 members which was unbelievable.

"I use to do a lot of demonstrations at first but then we had other demonstrated come in. We just used to show people how to arrange their flowers but it's changed a lot since and become a lot more professional."

After founding the club, Shirley stepped down from her role as President in 1975 to become Life President. In 1977 she was awarded honourary life membership before being named Founder President in 1984.

As well we the many demonstrations, festivals and workshops held at the club, Shirley said her proudest moment was arranging bouquets for the Queen and Queen Mother during their visits to Harrogate.

"That was when I had the flower shop so I was able to make the bouquets for them," she explained.

"I was very privileged to be able to do that and just being involved with the shop and the flower club gave me that little bit of credence; but it was a lovely moment.

"The flower shows in particular were great fun. I used to have a stall for the shop and also used to do some judging which I really enjoyed.

"I retired from the shop after about 55 years and that was a very emotional time. Flowers have been my life ever since I left school. I was very lucky to have some wonderful customers and make some incredible friends who I have still got."

Despite the club's success and longevity, current President Christine Booth explained that their Annual General Meeting tomorrow night (Thursday, February 9) will be their last.

She said: "Sadly it's a sign of the times. We needed people to follow on from us and take up the roles on the committee but unfortunately people have so many other interests nowadays.

"We think that Harrogate is probably one of the oldest clubs around. We only started counting from when we first joined NAFAS but we actually started meeting before that.

"It will be a great responsibility and sadness for the present committee to have to perform the very last AGM but we will all keep in touch and do other things as friends of the flower club.

"There's a great comradery within the flower world which is really lovely. It's not only the love of flowers which is fantastic but also the friendships that come with it."